The Akustik Audio
The Songs They Cut
It has been said that the songs cut at the Akustik session should have been from the repertoire of Rory Storm & the Hurricanes rather than the Beatles. A preserved play list from the time published in the Anthology book proves that at least 'Summertime' was among the numbers the Beatles regularly used to do in Hamburg. It's also quite possible that 'Fever' at least occasionally was included in their repertoire although this still remains to be finally proven.
A less obvious choice of song is 'September Song.' It is hard to think that this song was from either the Beatles or the Hurricanes regular repertoire. Maybe Allan Williams suggested they should do the song. It was after all he who was paying for the session. He also planned, when he had returned to England, to use the acetate/acetates to get a record contract and maybe he felt that 'September Song' was something that would catch the ears of the record executives.
Both Rick Richards and Peter Wharton of the Jets has pointed out that Lu Walters from his choice of material seems to have been a pure ballad singer and that the songs cut at the session therefore very well might have been picked from the repertoire of jazz and soul artists and not by obscure rock examples of standards.
If they are correct, it was the original Peggy Lee version from 1958 that was the model for Lu Walters performance of 'Fever' and not Elvis Presley's version from 1960. Peggy Lee's version was originally released in the UK on the single 'Fever'/'You Don't Know' (Capitol CL 14902) and the EP 'Fever' (Capitol EAR1 1052), while Elvis Presley's interpretation was included on the LP 'Elvis Is Back!' (RCA RD 2717/SF 5060). The black American soul singer little Willie John cut the original version of 'Fever' in March 1956, but it is not very likely that this is from where Walters had picked it up. Little Willie John's version of 'Fever' was released in the UK on the single 'Fever'/'Letter From My Darling' (Parlophone R 4209).
Countless singers have done 'Summertime' over the years. The song comes from the musical 'Porgy And Bess' (1935) and among the artists who have recorded it is Sarah Vaughan whose 'Summertime'/'I Cried For You' (Philips PB 455) was released in 1955. Gene Vincent's rendition can be heard on the LP 'A Gene Vincent Record Date' (Capitol T1059) and the single 'Summertime'/'Frankie And Johnny' (Capitol CL 15035), both released in the UK in 1959.
'September Song' was originally written for the theatre play 'Knickerbockers Holiday' in 1938. The most likely source is a recording made by Johnnie Ray in 1959 and released in the UK on the album 'A Sinner Am I' (Philips BBL 7348).
When cutting a version of 'September Song' in 1960, Lu Walters and the Beatles were ahead of their time. No rock artist had recorded the song before them, but others would do so later. Lou Reed recorded a version of the song in the mid-1970s and Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen had a minor hit in the charts with the same song ten years later.
Editor's Note: This small area of Beatles history is covered in confusion, yet its importance can't be denied because it is the first time that John, Paul, George and Ringo ever recorded together.
Over the years I have discussed the sessions with some of the people present and the stories do differ. In the 1970s I took Allan Williams along to the Keystone Press Agency with his photograph of the Beatles at Arnhem
Cemetery, to ensure that he received royalties from any publication of the picture and also to see that it wasn't lost to posterity. I also asked Allan whether he had a disc from the Akustik session. He told me that he'd left it behind in a London pub. When Hans writes that a copy of this disc existed at the time of the Mersey Beat article, he is right - Allan certainly had it in his possession throughout the 1960s, although there were also other copies that existed at the time.
For many years Virginia and I used to visit Johnny Byrne and his wife Margaret at their home in Crosby and conversations often drifted to memories of various events, including the Akustik sessions.
As far as I could ascertain, Allan had been very impressed by Lu Walters' voice and wanted to make a record of him. Lu was the second lead vocalist with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and did, indeed, sing mostly ballads. If you look at the Rory Storm & the Hurricanes history on this site you will see a sample of the numbers Lu actually sang on stage with the Hurricanes: 'Fever', 'Summertime', 'Let It Be Me', 'Beautiful Dreamer' and 'Mailman.' Cilla Black also sang 'Fever' with the Hurricanes. At the time when she asked me to become her manager, she said she wanted to be a jazz singer and asked if I could find a jazz trio to back her. She told me that her favourite singer was Peggy Lee.
It's also logical that Allan would wish to record Lu rather than the Beatles because he considered the Hurricanes to be a top group at the time and rated them much higher than the Beatles.
Obviously, with Lu as vocalist, this meant that Rory wouldn't be singing on the recordings. Pete Best also went into Hamburg city centre to buy drumsticks at the time and wasn't present. I believe it was felt that Hurricanes drummer Ringo Starr was more familiar with the numbers they were recording and would remain on drums. In fact, it seemed as if John, Paul and George (Stuart Sutcliffe was also absent from the sessions) were actually just providing vocal harmony as Lu played bass, Ringo drums and Ty Brien lead.
According to what I heard, John, Paul and George were only on the track 'Summertime.' Johnny Guitar, Ty Brien and Ringo backed Lu on 'Fever' and 'September Song.'
I was also told that the discs cost three marks each, but only six of the acetates were bought. No one knows what happened to them. Rory Storm had one (perhaps he did attend the session, although he didn't sing, just as he attended the Wyvern auditions), Lu gave his copy to his ex-wife, Williams left his in a London pub and Ty Brien also bought one, but it couldn't be traced after his death. Johnny Guitar also recalled that John and Paul bought a copy each, but they have never mentioned doing so.
Allan Williams actually paid for the recording session and it's interesting to note that after Lu had recorded his numbers, the Beatles asked Allan if they could record, but he refused to pay for them to do so.
It seems that the memories of the Beatles themselves in the 'Anthology' is far from reliable.
Hans is a noted Beatles historian and has researched this area of Beatles history in his acclaimed book 'The Beatles - From Cavern To Star Club', published by Premium Publishing in Stockholm, Sweden. He would also like to thank Rick Hardy (aka Rick Richards), former member of the Jets, for proof reading and sharing his knowledge and would also like to thank Peter Nash and Premium Publishing for their kind help.